By Josh Elliott
A B.C. woman experiencing the early stages of dementia has killed herself and left behind an open letter advocating for assisted suicide.
Gillian Bennett, 83, said she didn’t want to lose her “self” to dementia and leave behind an “empty husk” in a letter posted to her blog on Monday, shortly before she ended her life. “I will take my life today around noon,” she wrote. “It is time. Dementia is taking its toll and I have nearly lost myself. I have nearly lost me.”
Bennett was diagnosed with dementia three years ago. Her blog post says she opted to end her life now, before she lost her ability to act, because she could feel the disease quickly eroding her mind. “Ever so gradually at first, much faster now, I am turning into a vegetable,” Bennett wrote.
She reportedly died at about 11:30 a.m. on Monday after ingesting a lethal drug. She spent her last moments laying on a foam mattress outside her Bowen Island home, with her husband at her side.
“I just sat there and held her hand,” her husband Jonathan Bennett told CTV Vancouver.
Gillian Bennett said she wanted her death to spur the conversation around assisted suicide. “We do NOT talk much about how we die,” she said. “Yet facing death is thoroughly interesting and absorbing and challenging.”
Bennett pointed to law, religion and medicine as three institutions that need to change their approaches to assisted suicide. “My hope is that these institutions will continue to transform themselves, and that the medical profession will mandate, through sensitive and appropriate protocols, the administration of a lethal dose to end the suffering of a terminally ill patient, in accordance with her Living Will,” she wrote.
Bennett said everyone by the age of 50 should have a living will that says how and under what circumstances they would like to die. “Legally, everyone should have an obligation to make a Will, which would be stored electronically, could not be destroyed, and would be available automatically to any hospital in the world,” she wrote. “I do not have all the answers, but I do think I’m raising questions that need to be raised,” she added.
In her blog post, Bennett said she didn’t want to leave behind a “living carcass” that would be a financial burden on the Canadian healthcare system, and a chore for her loved ones.
“I can live or vegetate for perhaps 10 years in hospital at Canada’s expense, costing anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 per year,” she wrote. “It is a ludicrous, wasteful affair.”
Bennett claimed that rising life expectancy and an aging population make the elderly a growing burden on society – a burden to which she does not want to contribute. “All I lose is an indefinite number of years of being a vegetable in a hospital setting, eating up the country’s money but not having the faintest idea of who I am,” she wrote.
Bennett’s husband and family were aware of her decision ahead of time, she said. “In our family it is recognized that any adult has the right to make her own decision,” Bennett said. Her husband did not help her with the suicide but was present when she died, according to the blog post.
Bennett’s son and daughter spent the weekend visiting with her before she died.
“She was just at complete peace,” said her son, Guy. “My mom knew her window was closing. She knew that it was approaching the time when she could just wake up one morning and not remember her plan.”
Gillian Bennett is survived by her husband, two children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“I think of dying as a final adventure with a predictably abrupt end,” Gillian Bennett said. “I know when it’s time to leave and I do not find it scary.”
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